When Damon first laid eyes on Laurie while driving his car down the street one evening, he was so taken with her beauty that he made a u-turn so he wouldn’t miss the chance to connect with her.
The year was 2008, the place was Chicago, and the beauty was fashion designer and future Project Runway contestant (Season 14) Laurie Underwood. She was flagging down a cab when wine entrepreneur Damon Russell rode past. Next thing she knew, he was introducing himself.
“When I first saw Damon after he turned his car around, the energy I sensed felt life-changing and sure enough, it was,” she tells ESSENCE. “Love will always find you in the right place and at the right time.”
The two had their first date the next evening, and as Laurie says, “the rest is history.” They went on to fall in love, building a family together with Damon’s son Daemond and their daughters, Journe and Makemba. In 2016, Damon proposed during a ride on a Venetian gondola while the couple was on a trip to Rhode Island.
As beautiful as the progression of those years were, planning the wedding would come with great stress and even bigger roadblocks. The couple was initially set to wed in Florida, but when the pandemic hit in 2020, they had to postpone their nuptials and go back to the drawing board. Despite the planning struggles, their situation gave them the chance to get creative and think outside the box when it came to how to say “I do.” They decided to get married in a place already with filled with a lot of love: at home, in their backyard.
“We decided to plan and design our own wedding,” Laurie says of the August 14th nuptials. “Damon designed a waterfall that was displayed as the focal point during the ceremony, a floating deck to elevate us as the bride and groom, and a lounging pergola, used during the reception.”
Displaying further ingenuity, Laurie, the brains behind bridal line Laury Bride, crafted her own wedding gown. She opted for it to be in black. Every unique touch, from the big things, like marrying at home, to the little, like the bride and groom wearing unconventional attire while guests wore white, contributed to the wedding of Laurie and Damon’s dreams.
“Damon and I have been together for a long time, so traditions got thrown out the door for us and we were grateful to have the wedding that we would be happy with; from the style, to the venue, to the family-style vegan dinner, to the look and vibe of an affair we planned together in our home,” she says.
Check out the gorgeous images from their intimate, at-home wedding on the Southside of Chicago, learn more about how the day came together, and hear more about their overall love story.
Photographer: Emily Melissa Photo
Bride’s Gown and Jewelry, Flower Girl Dresses: Laury Bride
Groom’s Jacket: Custom Made by Bride
Decor: The Couple and Trudy Underwood
Day of Coordinator: Victoria Beaty
Caterer: Majani Vegan
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How the Bride Knew She’d Found the One
“I realized Damon was the one when he displayed love and support for not only me but also my dreams and goals. In return, I did the same for him,” Laurie says. “I also knew he was the true one after seeing the love and care he had for not just Daemond, but our two daughters, Journe and Makemba.”
How the Groom Knew He’d Found the One
“I realized Laurie was the one when she stepped in to help me to take care of my son, Daemond,” Damon says.
During a summer trip to Rhode Island, where the couple visited the La Gondola Providence, Damon popped the question.
“While we were serenaded with passionate Italian music by the gondoliers, Damon got down on one knee in the boat and proposed to me,” Laurie says. “I was speechless and overwhelmed with excitement, and I said yes!”
When plans to marry in a 16-room mansion in Kissimmee, Florida fell through due to COVID, the couple had to pivot.
“While searching for potential venues in Chicago, where we live, we decided that the money we put into a venue could actually be an opportunity to invest in our home, specifically, our backyard,” Laurie says. “We decided to plan and design our own wedding.”
“I designed the decor and branding of our wedding, while my sister Trudy and friend Victoria traveled in to do set-up and coordination for the day of,” Laurie says.
An All-Black Bride
Laurie has crafted many a traditional bridal gown in white or variations of white for others. For her own wedding, she wanted bold and feminine.
“The color black, to me, is so feminine and elegant, and I knew that’s how I wanted to look on my wedding day,” she says.
An All-White Guest List
While the bride wore black and the groom wore florals, family and friends who were present (including their kids) wore white.
“We wanted our guests to be on one accord and in uniform with each other, as our families were coming together for the very first time,” Laurie says. “Spiritually, white represents wholeness, light, love, rebirth, balance, and harmony. So having spiritual connectedness from our guests allowed us to step into this new chapter with these elements.”
An Intimate Affair
The couple kept their wedding small, with 75 guests due to COVID and because they were celebrating in their backyard.
“We had to be really strategic about who to invite,” Laurie says. “We both have huge families and close friends, so putting the guest list together was the hardest part of planning our wedding. We wish we could have invited everyone, but we had two major factors influencing our list: COVID-19 and the fact that we were very mindful about the costs incurred for our wedding.”
Quality Time With Guests
“We wanted a small intimate-sized wedding so that we could properly enjoy time with our loved ones,” Laurie says. “About 70 percent of our guests traveled to Chicago for the wedding, so time spent was very important to us. To capitalize on time, we hosted a wedding brunch the day after in our home to have a weekend full of festivities.”
The Most Memorable Moments
“Seeing Laurie walk down the aisle,” Damon says of his favorite moment from the big day. For both Laurie and Damon, the best part of the wedding and reception was her entrance and a dance under the fireworks.
“Walking down the aisle to marry the one I love,” she said of her go-to moment.
“For us both, our most memorable moment was dancing under the fireworks to SWV’s ‘You’re Always On My Mind.’”
The King and Queen of Their Castle
Check out the waterfall in the background! It was put together by the very handy groom.
The couple’s daughters, Journe and Makemba, are photographed getting ready together.
A Different Kind of Black Cake
This beautiful wedding cake was crafted by Creative Cakes by Dria in the Southwest suburbs.
The Cutest Flower Girl
The couple’s youngest daughter, Makemba, is seen on flower girl duties.
A Photogenic Family
Pictured here are bride and groom Laurie and Damon, as well as their children, Daemond, Journe and Makemba.